The Travelogue: Venice Again? Mall of Asia, and Shopping Frustrations

The Travelogue: Venice Again? Mall of Asia, and Shopping Frustrations

I’d never eaten part of a cow’s intestine before. That was before I tried Kare Kare, a traditional Filipino stew consisting of meat and vegetables in a savoury peanut sauce. Kuya S (I’m still not sure what relation I am to him, though I know it’s not by blood) took us all out for lunch at Max’s and everyone insisted I try Filipino foods I hadn’t before.

“Don’t worry, it’s been boiled many times so there are no germs”, ate M reassured me. “I hope”, she added.

When in Rome, and all that. I tried it, chewing it as best I could for it was slimy on my tongue, and concluded I’d much prefer Kare Kare without part of a cow’s digestive track, and was careful not to put any more on my plate. I also had Tofu Adobong, which I liked very much.

After a pleasant meal and tita L’s insistances that we take photos for Facebook (she’s addicted), the plan was for us to all go to Market Market. Alas, as always with my family, plans can change on a dime, and when all of us, apart from kuya S who had somewhere to be, had piled into two Ubers, Jen and I found out we were being taken to Venice Grand Canal Mall for the second day in a row.

We wandered around for forty-five minutes, taking photos here and there, but we’d seen all we’d wanted to the day before, and there wasn’t all that much to see beyond the initial novelty of the gondolas. When the family had reconvened outside Jollibee, Jen and I decided to head to the Mall of Asia while the others took the babies home. Tita L joined us in the taxi, as she was heading in the same direction to get transport to Atimonan. A short ride later, we alighted, bade her farewell (for now) and ventured into the massive Mall of Asia.

The Philippines loves a big mall. Four of the twenty largest malls in the world reside on the archipelago, MoA sitting at 4th in the country and 11th in the world and covering an area of 406,962 square meters. My village could comfortably fit inside it’s walls. Still, I remember it feeling bigger; when I last visited, in 2011, it was ranked 2nd largest mall in the Philippines, before being knocked down the table by SM Megamall’s 2011 extension and the opening of SM Seaside City Cebu in 2015.

We wandered around, often aimlessly, Jen munching on giga cheese fries from Potato Corner. I was sad to see that a few shops I had planned to revisit had shut and been replaced, most notable Fujifilm, for I didn’t know where else to buy camera film (that wasn’t Instax).
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There are only two facets of Filipino life that genuinely give me culture shock, and it’s not the food, regardless of whether there’s cow intestine or not. One: most public toilets in the country don’t come with toilet paper (and you can’t flush tissue either). And two: the nature of customer service in shops.

Shopping in the Philippines, while great, has certain frustrations. For one thing, even the largest malls, such as MoA and Megamall, have a pitiful number of maps. You’d think buildings that are the size of small towns would provide shoppers with the courtesy of knowing where they are and where they want to go is actually located. That being said, the maps these gigantic malls do have are interactive and very useful, allowing you to search for specific stores and showing you the exact route. But I only found two in the entirety of MoA, and the average mall may contain no maps at all, leaving consumers to wander around aimlessly, though that’s probably what they want.

Then there is the customer service. I don’t know about you, but I’m someone who likes to browse at my leisure and ask for assistance should I require it, but you’re often not given that option. Again, many places are just fine. I find the staff in Smart and Globe stores very helpful, and love Toy Kingdom (the staff in there have to deal so many excitable kids), but venture into a less frequented area of an SM department store and you’ll find a group of six or seven staff members with folded arms and glum expressions, standing around like a gang in an alleyway. Should they hear you approach, their heads will turn in unison to stare, expectant, daring you to enter into their territory. It’s at this point that I usually dart down a sidetrack, but if you’re unfortunate enough to actually need something in the section they occupy, prepare to be surrounded. Their faces will lighten, smiles breaking, while they greet you with ‘Hi, sir. Hi, Ma’am’, before barraging you with options and sizes and designs and prices. I, for one, can’t stand so much attention. Nor can I understand why there needs to be so many staff members in every section; you don’t need seven on suitcases, that’s just a fact.

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It was a similar story in Art Bar, a lovely little art shop and cafe we visited in BGC the day before. The amount of staff on the first floor alone outnumbered customers 2:1. And that was when there were other customers other than our little group; at one point we had the floor to ourselves. The shop seemed vastly overstaffed: barring the man in the cafe, the one of the door, and the one who approached us, very few of them were doing any work. I counted seven people stood behind the till, chatting quietly, staring at us, and one or two were even on their phone. Two of the girls were so bored they started dancing, slowly twirling each other around in time to the coffee shop soundtrack. The shop only opened at the beginning of the year; we’ll have to see how long it lasts since it seems to be paying for a pointless amount of staff.

With such an abundance of staff in shops you’d think service would be pretty zippy, but that is often not the case. At one point I spent fifteen minutes queuing in Watsons to buy tissues. There was only one woman on the till, and as people in front of me were buying prescriptions, it’s understandable there’d be a wait. What wasn’t understandable was that another women, who I presumed to be the supervisor, stood behind the till, and instead of opening another like I expected, simply took the items of those standing in line and places them next to the register before wandering off again. As you can imagine, this caused a little confusion for the woman serving, as she couldn’t work out whose items were whose, and had to ask us customers. It was an exercise in futility.

And then there’s Comic Alley, a shop that I would be absolutely in love with were it not for the irritating staff. I don’t know why, but they are trained to be like leeches, sticking to you relentlessly, offering redundant comments such as ‘dalawang designs, sir’, while you’re literally holding the dalawang designs in your hand. (A game I like to play is to walk in a figure of eight around the store, not looking at anything, just to see how long someone will follow me around.) On this occasion, I was greeted by an energetic girl with a nice smile, who skipped alongside me and clapped loudly along with the anime soundtracks on the speakers. I could barely concentrate on what I was looking at. After a few minutes of clapping in my ear, she tagged in a colleague, but I was about done, and left the One-Punch Man backpack I’d had my eye on on the shelf. If the staff were less cloying, I’d spend so much money in Comic Alley.

I asked friends why the customer service is this way. Jen, who unlike me grew up in the Philippines, seems to find many shop assistants as annoying as I do. “They’re just overenthusiastic about making sales”, she believes. A friend I asked had a different interpretation: “I guess it’s our culture. We’ve always been hospitable, and maybe sometimes we overdo it”, she explained. “I also hate it when they hover around me”. I always thought part of being hospitable was making guests feel comfortable. No one I know in the Philippines, whether relative or friend, seems to find it any less than annoying. (If anyone who is in customer service in the Philippines knows why things are the way they are, please leave a comment, I’m genuinely interested to know).

In many respects, you’ll get a better customer experience in local markets and changi. While stall owners do tend to hover as well, you’re only dealing with one person, and I’ve found they are more helpful and less pushy than their counterparts in the middle-class stores and malls of Manila.
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MoA attracts on average 200,000 people a day, and thought it is vast and spacious, entrances and exits can get congested. We braved the throngs of shoppers across the bridge and down to the bay area, where you can find more restaurants, a Ferris wheel and fun fair rides, and innumerable people sitting along the seawall, waiting for the famed sunsets of Manila bay. The day was overcast and humid; the possibility of a good sunset low, but still the wall was packed for as far as the eye can see in either direction with groups of young people happily chatting while staring out to sea, with no space for newcomers. We retreated back up to the bridge, slightly disappointed, the broken escalator adding a little frustration to the mix. We didn’t need to worry though, the next day we’d set our gaze on the true majesty of a sunset at Manila Bay.
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35mm Philippines: Views of Venice Grand Canal Mall_00_00079First of the roll. First of the trip. Olympus OM-40 + Kodak Ektar 100__0_00080Olympus OM-40 + Kodak Ektar 100__2_00082Jen. Olympus OM-40 + Kodak Ektar 10013A_00133I remember seeing these two have a small crash not long after I took this. Less of a crash, more of a tiny bump, really, but amusing nonetheless 😀 Olympus XA2 + Fuji Superia 100 (expired)
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The mall itself is definitely novel, but you can’t shake the feeling that it’s a glorified swimming pool surrounded by a shopping centre more reminiscent of Macau (The Venetian Macau casino, specifically) than Venice.”

Read the full account of my trip in The Travelogue.

The Travelogue: Pissing, Bigotry, and again on the MRT

The Travelogue: Pissing, Bigotry, and again on the MRT

Apart from meeting K, I will remember Bonifacio High Street for one other, very specific reason.

As I sat in the back of a taxi on 5th Avenue, along from BGC High Street, my eyes drooping from jet lag and a pleasant day of wandering, I saw something that immediately woke me up. A boy in his mid-teens, with slicked-back hair and expensive looking shoes told his four companions to go on ahead of him. He then approached a bush in the pavement and stood with his legs apart, and I thought ‘No, he isn’t…’ He did. He proceeded to whip out his dick and piss in full view of the gridlock traffic and any pedestrians who were unlucky enough to be walking his way. I was flabbergasted, and turned away in case we made eye contact. People who pee in public are usually more subtle, or drunk, not some trendy teen who looked like he was on his way to the movies with his friends. Yet here he was, proudly peeing in one of the most intentionally ‘posh’ areas of the entire country. I really hoped the irony wasn’t lost on him.

The rest of the car now noticed. The girls couldn’t help exclaiming ‘oh, my god!’ through surprised laughter. “He’s very bold”, said the taxi driver with a chuckle. “I couldn’t do that, could you do that?” I couldn’t help but smile.
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The rest of the taxi ride wasn’t as fun. K once again engaged the taxi driver in conversation, during which the topic became me being half-white, Jen and I being from England, and then somehow devolved into the driver’s opinions on black people in America and the UK, which didn’t sound pleasant. I don’t have a great understanding of Tagalog, but I can generally get the gist of a conversation, and the racism seemed to seep through the language barrier. ‘Kuya, you’re racist!’, K would interject at points, confirming my suspicions, which he would just shrug off with a laugh and a ‘hindi po!’, dismissing her rebuttals as well. He didn’t seem to get that saying racist things and having racist views made him a racist, though racists are often like that. It’s not the first time I’d heard anti-black sentiment in the Philippines, I doubt it’ll be the last either. It’s a problem in the Philippines, in Asia, and in the world as a whole, sadly.

After his rant the driver glanced at me in the rear-view. “Hindi naiintindihan ng mga Briton” (the Briton doesn’t understand), he said to K. I understood enough.
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We alighted the taxi at Makati station. I was glad to be out of it and on the last leg home, even if it meant braving the MRT. Jen was curious as to why K is so chatty with taxi drivers.

“I try to psyche them out. I need to feel the driver is an okay person; also to keep from doing anything stupid”, she said, and showed us the pepper spray in her bag. She does have to travel around a lot for work, often alone. Better safe than sorry, I guess. “I also did that so they know that you have a local friend with you”, she continued, “and wont charge you way over the meter; they always do that to people from out-of-town unless you’re using Uber or Grab”. This was also something I was aware of, and over the course of the trip we did get caught out twice, but in general the taxi drivers were honest in their pricing.

Sadly, it was time to part with K. We had had a lovely day with her, especially Jen, who was well rested after the flight and able to have lively conversations in Tagalog with K throughout the day. We all hugged, vowed to see each other again, then Jen and I climbed to the platform.

It was rush hour on the MRT; exactly what I’d been warned about. My fellow commuters and I piled into the carriage, all of our personal bubbles obliterated as we politely forced our way far enough inside that we wouldn’t get caught in the closing doors, each of us trying to ignore just how many elbows were inadvertently digging into us and whose breath we were smelling. I held on to Jen’s hand. A balding businessman joined me in being squashed up against the doors. To my right, a seated woman caught some shut-eye, her head leant against the metal railing. I was jet lagged, but even I wouldn’t have managed to find sleep in there. I tried my best to ignore those whose bodily warmth I was forced to share, but I was awakened from my daydreams by a loud cough the businessman’s spittle. If you have a fetish for trapped with people coughing in your face, then the MRT may just be for you.
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The Travelogue: Bonifacio High Street

The air was sticky with humidity; stepping out of the air-conditioned taxi was like moving from the shade to the sauna. Thankfully, a veil of white cloud sheltered us from the sun’s scorching summer rays. After ‘Venice’, we had travelled to Bonifacio High Street, the core of BGC. I had expected something like Oxford Street in London, but BGC High street is a hybrid of boulevard, mall, and park, with an expansive 40-metre wide main shopping area, squares of verdant greenery, and tall palm trees up and down the walk. Surrounding it are swanky highrises, shimmering with newness.

We wandered the boulevard, passing shoppers, security guards, and restaurant workers who greeted us with ‘Hi, Sir. Hi, ma’am’ before reeling off a list of dishes from their menus. The wide walkways deceptively gave the appearance of a quiet day and I appreciated the calm atmosphere that is missing from many shopping areas in the world.

However, BGC High Street is not a place for the money-conscious traveller; it’s a place for middle-class Pinoys and expats to part with their cash in coffee shops, restaurants, and on foreign brands. It seems unmistakably, intentionally ‘posh’, a fact betrayed by the exclusion of ubiquitous fast food restaurants like Jollibee and McDonald’s which you usually find on any street there are hungry Filipinos.

We ventured into a few places and found that shops such as Lush and Topshop were pricier here compared to back home. In regard to clothing, this trend always puzzled me. Topshop, River Island, and clothing stores of that ilk, have their garments made in South or South East Asia, so I had naively assumed during my last trip that they’d be cheaper in the Philippines, but the sirens’ call of foreign brands to many in the country means they can maintain or inflate their prices. That’s my theory, at least. It might be something to do with corporation or import taxes or some other economic reason. My friend seemed to think so. Does anyone know the real reason why? Send in your answers on a postcard (leave a comment in the comment section).

Needing a place to sit and rest, we ventured to a nearby McDonald’s lying on a noticeably less affluent looking street, segregated from the chosen foreign names on the high street. I’m always torn when it comes to eating at fast food places when travelling. On the one hand, it’s not very adventurous, and I feel I should try to stick to local cuisine. On the other, I enjoy seeing the little differences in familiar settings; seeing items on the menu that you can’t get back home, or in any other country, and trying them too (does that count as ‘local cuisine’?) At this point though, we just needed somewhere to sit, so we bought ‘BFF fries’, a triple portion in a huge container (something not found in England) and plonked ourselves at a table as threatening clouds unloaded a strong tropical shower.

This rest stop gave us the opportunity to finally exchange our gifts. K fished inside her green bag and handed us each a fountain pen, a notebook, a key chain, and a box of fact cards from a Filipino shop called Papemelroti. Prior to the trip, I had also asked her if she had any magazines or pamphlets I could use for my cultural learning, and she had brought these along too. She had even printed out a few articles on historical events, and I greatly appreciated the effort she put in. She also gave Jen some beauty products, including a sea salt spray by Beachborn, another Filipino brand. Lastly, she gave us handwritten letters in a decorative brown envelope with a wax seal. I knew she would have put her heart into these letters, and we decided to save opening them for a time when we could appreciate them fully and not stain them with greasy fingerprints. In return, we gave her Cadbury’s chocolate, stationery, and a Lush lip scrub, though it seemed like she’d given us so much more, and we were surprised and touched by her generosity. “It’s fine”, she said. “You guys came all the way from England, and I’m happy that I’m the first person you wanted to see”.

My plan to stay up the whole flight in an attempt to thwart jet lag didn’t work, shockingly. By five o’clock I felt lethargic, my eyes drooping, and my participation in the energetic conversations of K and Jen became minimal. I was glad they were having a good time, but I felt bad for not talking to K as much as I’d have hoped, given this was likely the only time during the trip I’d see her.

We sat until the BFF fries and the rain were finished, then head back to the humid air of the high street.
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Travelogue: Venice Grand Canal Mall

Travelogue: Venice Grand Canal Mall

When people mention that they are going to ‘Manila’, most of the time they mean Metro Manila. Manila city itself is just one city in a metropolitan area that includes fifteen others and one municipality: Quezon City (where we were staying with my relatives), Makati, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Caloocan, Las Pinas, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Paranaque, Valenzuela, Malabon, Marikina, Pateros (the municipality) and Taguig, which is where we were heading. Specifically, we were heading to Bonifacio Global City within Taguig city; a city within a city, within the metro.

We piled into a taxi and K gave the driver directions while engaging him in conversation. I had never seen someone so keen to talk to a taxi driver before and he seemed to appreciate the conversation. We were driving from one business district to another. BGC is a fairly recent development within the Metro, and in just over twenty years has become an important business nd commercial hub. It has also become a symbol of wealth, with many luxury apartment developments springing up and maybe the most intentionally posh high street in the country. A friend had told me that ‘lots of celebrities and CEOs live there; if you live in BGC, it’s a sign that you’ve made it’. It didn’t strike me as somewhere that would peak my interest, but I was excited to see a part of Manila I hadn’t before. Looking out the window, the insufferable traffic that plagued much of Manila seemed not to exist here. The roads were wide and clean, lined by blocks of offices and swanky apartments, many sparsely populated and others still under construction. BGC is an ongoing project.

Our taxi turned off the main highway and began to climb Mckinley Hill, an area developer Megaworld (a name that conjures images of a theme park rather than a real estate company) describes on their website as “the perfect LIVE-WORK-PLAY-LEARN-SHOP community” (their capitalisation, not mine), and a taste of “European living in the tropics”, an image which is rammed home quite forcibly by our destination, Venice Grand Canal Mall. We alighted from the taxi and K insisted she pay the fare.

I thought it was just a name. From the outside it seemed like any other mall: less boxy and plain than a typical mall, but a mall nonetheless. It’s inside where you realise why it’s called ‘Venice Grand Canal’. In the central complex sits a shallow canal on which gondolas captained by gondoliers in striped shirts and red neckerchiefs transport paying customers from one end to the other. Surrounding this is the mall itself; the walls divided up into small ‘buildings’ akin to the narrow houses seen on Venetian streets, but painted various shades of pink and yellow, and conveying an atmosphere of gaudy modern imitation rather than traditional European abodes. There is no roof over the canal, and high rises of mismatching styles towered over the mall. We stood at a balcony to take in the scene. Many others were doing the same, gazing down upon those in the boats and taking photos, and we couldn’t help but join in.

We walked along the lower level, Jen and K chatting happily in Tagalog and gazing briefly at the stalls. Wallpaper behind them depicted images of traditional European shops such as a ‘grocers’ and a ‘boulangerie’. In the centre of the mall sat two docks on either side of the canal, in the shadow of a replica ‘bridge of sighs’. There seemed to be decent demand for rides, though I couldn’t imagine being keen for getting ferried twenty-five yards before the gondolier has to pull a u-turn and head back the same way, like doing lengths of a pool, all under the watchful gaze of fellow shoppers. The mall itself is definitely novel, but you can’t shake the feeling that it’s a glorified swimming pool surrounded by a shopping centre more reminiscent of Macau (The Venetian Macau casino, specifically) than Venice.
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The Travelogue: MRT & K

One goal Jen and I had for this trip was to meet up with as many of our internet friend as possible, and on our first full day of the trip we had arranged to meet K, a long time correspondent and someone we already considered a close friend. She’s a very open-minded, committed and hard working individual, and as she works for local government, she has to be. We had bonded over our love of art and frustrations with the current state of Filipino politics. Jen and I both agreed she was the first person we wanted to meet.

However, we weren’t sure which day we had actually arranged to meet her and having no internet at my tita’s we had no way to get in contact. She was traveling from Cavite, braving a two hour journey and the monstrosity that is Manila traffic to see us; we couldn’t leave her hanging. We scrambled to buy a SIM card and managed to message her. She was already in the city and we arranged to meet in Makati around midday. We bid my ‘paranoid talaga!’ mother and tita L goodbye, listening politely to their nonsense about possible kidnappings and the dangers of meeting ‘strangers’ and agreeing that, yes, we would take a photo of our friend (for proof, I guess?).

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To get to Makati we decided to take the MRT (Metro Rail Transit system). It’s reputation precedes it; known for being vastly overcrowded, especially at rush hour, and poorly maintained in recent years, people had warned me not to bother with it, but that just made me curious to see what the fuss was about.

We bought our tickets at Araneta center and climbed to the platform just as a train was about to depart. Jen grabbed my hand and pulled me into the nearest carriage five seconds before the doors slid shut. It was basically full, with just enough wiggle room to manoeuvre my backpack off my shoulders without hitting someone in the face, but not yet at the chronic over-capactiy locals often complain about. A few minutes later, Jen had an uneasy feeling.

‘I think we’re in a women only carriage’, she whispered to me.

I turned to look around. Sure enough, it seemed like she was right.

Being half-white and tall for a Filipino I tend to get stared at a lot, something I hadn’t been prepared for on my first trip to the country where I was old enough to be conscious of it, though I’d become used to it by now. Still, nothing has made me more self-aware that having nearly an entire carriage of women (and one man, for some reason) gaze intently at you and wonder why you’re there. I was a head taller than everyone else and standing by the doors; there was no way to blend in, and I kept one had on my backpack and one on Jen’s shoulder so they knew I was with her. Jen told me not to worry about it. At the next stop, I tried hard not to get in the way as women squeezed in and out of the carriage, Jen and I getting shuffled back into the very centre. A large Caucasian man in sunglasses and typical middle-aged-tourist attire walked casually through the doors at the far end, seemingly unaware (I’d hope) that he shouldn’t have. This might have made me feel more relaxed, but it didn’t. At the next stop, Ortigas, Jen and I both agreed we should alight and board the proper carriage of the next train.

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We found K at Glorietta mall, eventually. Due to a miscommunication and us not knowing the geography of the area, we kept walking around and missing each other. At one point Jen waved at someone she thought was K, only to realise that she had embarrassed herself. It’s okay, not many people saw.

So we decided to stay on one place. Ten minutes later, K appeared gifts and hugs for us. We’d brought her presents from England too, but we all decided that it’d be better to exchange them later rather than standing at the entrance to Glorietta. We weren’t sticking around anyway; K was taking us to BGC.
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The Travelogue: Balikbayan

The Travelogue: Balikbayan

Flicking through my passport in line at immigration, I glanced at the stamp from my previous trip to the Philippines. On the line above ‘date until’ were no numbers, but two letters: bb. Balikbayan. One who has left and has now returned.

I was born in Manila, but it was not so much a homecoming for me as for my mother, or Jen, my girlfriend. They were born and raised in the Philippines, and while they had left, still harboured a deep love for the country, like a child who has flown the nest. They had travelled from half a world away back ‘home’ far more frequently than I had. I love the Philippines too, but that love is mixed with curiosity, confusion, and a tiny bit of fear too.

The flight over was longer than I remembered. The airline we travel with had added a stopover in Taiwan since I last made this journey, and this meant an extension to the eighteen hour journey time. This meant more sitting, even number arses, and sore necks, which did not go down well with Jen who suffers from travel sickness and was not able to get the window seat, which usually alleviates it somewhat. That honour was taken by a nice Dutch girl whose name now escapes me, (who also needed the window seat due to travel sickness) who we made friendly sporadic conversation with during the journey. She had lived in Manila for a year for work, and was revisiting the country for a week to meet friends. I was envious of how well she seemed to sleep, though I had taken the tact of trying to stay up the whole flight to cheat jet lag (in the end, it didn’t work).

When our plane began it’s descent, darkness had already descended on Manila. As we dropped below the clouds the golden lights of the metro shone, casting a golden aura over the city. Headlights shone along the four main highways: Aurora, Edsa, Taft and Roxas. Hardly any traffic showed motion; countless cars stood still along these clogged arteries that run through the heart of the city, the very traffic we’d be sat in an hour hence.

Once off the plane at NAIA, we reunited with my mother, who had been sat apart from us, gathered our suitcases, and headed to the arrival area, searching the sea of faces for my relatives who had braved the journey to collect us. We were met by Tita L, my mother’s older sister, and my cousins kuya A and kuya M who embraced me in short, awkward hugs.

“What do you think of my boy?” my mother asks tita L, smiling.

“He’s so handsome!”, she responds. A typical tita response.

We’d returned.

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The heat I felt upon stepping out of the airport doors sent a warm wave of nostalgia through me. Like a warm blanket, the evening heat enveloped me as I stood, my sleep-deprived mind becoming drowsy. I was impatient to get to the house.

Half an hour later we were in gridlock, six of us packed into a five seater car, travel Filipino style, Jenny, myself, my mother and my tita, all squished into the back seat.

“You don’t need that,” Jen told me as I strained to put my seatbelt on. “This is the Philippines,” she said, smiling at me like I was a naive child. No one else had buckled up,  but the safety-conscious self within protested and I stubbornly stayed strapped in.

It took us two and a half hours to get to my tita’s in Cubao. Along the way, my relatives and Jenny chatted happily in Tagalog, with smatterings of English for my benefit, my mother catching up with her sister and everyone asking Jenny questions. I have limited knowledge of Tagalog, but I can generally understand the gist of a conversation, and followed along as best I could while silently taking in the sights of night-time Manila. Even late at night, there is so much activity on the street. Night markets, food stalls, people hopping off Jeepneys and walking into the night, bright billboards, street dogs, stray cats, large groups of small children playing basketball, pedicabs trying desperately not for get hit by traffic and motorbikes zipping in between it, tricycle drivers catching some shut-eye while lying across their motorcycles. For a country-boy, these initial impressions when returning to the city are fascinating, the windows of the car becoming my television.

Finally, we reached the house. My cousins unloaded the baggage from the car as we greeted and embraced tita G and others who had been waiting outside to meet us. We entered the kitchen to find even more relatives, some of which I had met before, some I hadn’t, but all were introduced to us regardless. When everyone had filed in, eight adults and four children were packed into the room, the ceiling-mounted fan not able to blow the tropical evening heat off my skin. That nostalgic heat, and those nostalgic scenes, are what finally made me feel tired.

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